Usually the term “summer school” denotes punishment of some kind for those that didn’t pass a class and have to catch up. That could apply to Buccaneers defensive end Gaines Adams, whose 12.5 sacks over his first two years is tops for any defensive lineman in his 2007 draft class class, but still short of expectations from fans, the media and the team, who expect more from the fourth overall pick in the draft.
So while some players took the month of July off to get some rest and relaxation in before training camp, Adams and Bucs rookie Kyle Moore decided to go to summer school together in Atlanta, Ga. where Chuck Smith’s Defensive Line, Inc. pass rush camp resides. Smith, who played in the NFL from 1992-2000 and retired as the Falcons’ all-time leading sacker with 58.5 sacks, works with scores of draft-eligible NFL prospects as well as some of the game’s most prolific sackers in Albert Haynesworth, Osi Umeniyiora, Richard Seymour and DeMarcus Ware among several others.
Smith has played an integral role in doubling the amount of sacks his pupils get after spending weeks in his pass rushing camps during the offseason teaching them the art of pass rushing and his Top 10 Pass Rush Commandments.
Pewter Report has conducted several interviews with Smith this offseason and he had PR relay Smith’s interest in working with Adams before the summer was over. But the real influence for Adams likely came from Moore, who used Smith’s camp in early January to prepare for the Senior Bowl where he elevated his draft stock throughout the week in practice and notched a sack against first-round pick Michael Oher in the game.
“Gaines and Kyle came up about three weeks in July,” Smith said. “Gaines did real good. Just like I expected, he just needed to learn the art. He needed to understand that pass rushing is different than anything else you do. Tampa has two great players in Gaines and Kyle. Kyle is carrying that USC swagger. He was a fourth-round draft pick and he knows he’s better than that. From what I’ve heard from Tampa during the OTAs, he was showing why he’s going to be one of the steals of the draft.”
Smith, who keeps closer tabs on NFC teams due to his days playing for the Falcons and Panthers, has scouted Adams over the first two years of his career and knows that he has to improve his hands.
“The first thing I went over with Gaines was that his hands are violent weapons and he needs to use them,” Smith said. “They should never be still. From the time the ball is snapped, his hands need to be in perpetual motion. I think Gaines is a stallion. I know he hasn’t had the numbers they would like for him to have down there, but he’s still young and they would be absolutely crazy to ever let this guy get out of town. The bottom line is that he hasn’t been taught. He might have been taught how to play defensive line, but he hasn’t been taught how to rush the passer. There’s a difference. We’re just scratching the surface.
“We worked on a lot of things and at the end of the day, he has to change the way he approaches third downs. It starts during the work week by watching film. We watched hours of film together. While he was up here, Gaines trained with Richard Seymour, John McCargo, Shawn Rodgers and a lot of my A-list clients, in addition to Robert Ayers, Larry English and other young rooks. This was a competition, man. His eyes were opened. Gaines was training with Richard Seymour – a future Hall of Famer. He was training to get better. He’s been to six Pro Bowls.”
Adams thoroughly enjoyed Smith’s tutelage and found it extremely beneficial. Being around current, successful pass rushers like Seymour enabled Adams to study the way he gets sacks up close.
“It’s good to be able to branch out and get some input from guys that you don’t play with every day. All of us have a different way we play this game,” Adams said. “With Seymour, he’s a great guy that has had a great career. Being able to be in those guys’ presence was unbelievable. Now I’m ready to get after it. With Seymour being inside with the scheme that the Patriots play, his hand placement was the main thing. We have two totally different type bodies, but we all use our hands. Where I need to put my hands is in the same place that he needs to put his – regardless of the size difference or the scheme. I watched how he placed his hands and his striking movements.”
After working on Adams’ hands and teaching him how to be a more effective striker, Smith worked with the Clemson product’s hips, which are essential in the art of pass rushing.
“Gaines worked his butt off. We were enhancing his conditioning, but we were really working on his hips,” Smith said. “My program develops hips and learning how to bend. The great pass rushers don’t have lean. I hear so many coaches say they want guys to have that lean. You don’t want to lean because you lose your balance and fall down. You want balance. Having good hips are so important. If Gaines were to race Jared Allen in a 40-yard dash, Gaines would smoke him. But pass rushing is not about that. You have to be able to drop your hips, get around the edge and get to the quarterback.”
At 6-foot-5, Adams is high cut and has long legs, which means he must loosen up his hips and be able to drop them and get lower as he turns the corner on left tackles.
“In this league, everybody has speed – even the left tackles,” Adams said. “You have to know when to drop your hips and get around them. Speed alone is not going to work. You and I both know that. You have to have a counter move to go with your speed. It starts with your hips.”
Smith said Adams worked hard on his hips when turning the corner, which is the genesis of a counter move to go along with Adams’ speed rush.
“We really worked on his hips and developing a counter move,” Smith said. “He’s such a great athlete. I told him that he was going against a tackle and that he needed to take off and then be able to stop on a dime. I’m big on that. When you are rushing the passer, you can’t have any false steps. I went back and looked at the tape. Whenever he was trying a counter move, Gaines was indecisive. Not because he didn’t think he could get there, but because of his foot placement. Gaines was in a lean. He wasn’t bending at the waist against the tackles. You want to have balance – not lean.
“We worked on his hips and we worked on different surfaces. When you rush on that grass in Tampa, it will be different when you come to the dome in Atlanta. You have to understand the different elements and the different surfaces you are going to rush on. You have to be a student of the game. A lot of young guys don’t put the time in to learn this stuff and how to deal with slide protection. It’s tactical warfare.”
In addition to learning about the physical side of pass rushing, Smith gave Adams a real education about the mental side of being an elite sacker and stressed the importance of that as well.
“I have my guys study history,” said Smith, who has volumes of videotape of the NFL’s best pass rushers from today and yesteryear. “I told Gaines, ‘You ain’t nothing but Chris Doleman 20 years later. Don’t try to re-write history. Follow it.’ I showed him the speed chop. Do you know who else does the speed chop? Jared Allen. Let me show you this move that Jason Taylor does. But do you know who else did it? Kevin Greene. All the great pass rushers have great hands and great hips. They are absolute freaking pass rushing predators. They go to do damage. Gaines has to learn to be feared. The great pass rushers always get two or three sacks each year because people are afraid of them and they mess up assignments. Simeon Rice was the same way.
“Gaines has to get out of the mindset that he’s a defensive lineman and understand that he’s a playmaker. He needs to not just get sacks, but get sacks, force fumbles and then turn those into touchdowns. Don’t just get a sack and get up and dance. Get the sack, get the ball and score. Then do your dance. He can be one of the best pass rushers in the game. I think he’s going to have a huge jump in his next two years if he keeps working. He’s young and he wants it. He and Kyle are going to be really good together. As crazy as it sounds, I’m glad that Kyle is in Tampa even though Gaines is a starter because Kyle thinks he’s as good as Gaines. That puts pressure on the older guys. Those guys are going to be hell of a rushers together.”
The last thing Smith worked on with Adams was his power and creating a more physical presence. In his first two years in the NFL, Adams has developed a reputation as a finesse, speed rusher, who primarily tries to run around left tackles to sack the quarterback. That has produced only limited results, evidenced by Adams’ 12.5 sacks through two years, which is more than any other defensive lineman from the 2007 draft class, but not enough for a player that was selected fourth overall.
“He can’t be finesse,” Smith said. “I told him he has to be physical against the run and he can’t take plays off and wait to rush the passer. When you play the run, you have to maul the tackle. You can’t just wait for third down. You can break tackles early in the game just by being aggressive. It has nothing to do with size. Just because you are light doesn’t mean you have to play light. This year, Gaines will be doing more bull rushes and more speed-to-bull rushes. That’s what all those guys in Pittsburgh like James Harrison do – speed-to-bull.
“It’s about balance and dropping his hips. It’s not about lean. He was really great and he soaked it up. I was amazed about the amount of talent he has. He just has to be groomed and developed. Pass rushing is a three-year project. Every once in a while you’ll have a Bruce Smith or a Derrick Thomas or a Dwight Freeney where they are great right out of the chute. Developing pass rushers is like developing quarterbacks. You have to get to the point where the game slows down. It’s going to slow down for Gaines. He has to quit looking at flashing colors. He has to know that the center, Todd McClure, is 5-foot-11, but the tackle, Sam Baker, is 6-foot-6. When you stunt inside, you need to swim over Todd. But you can’t swim over Sam because he’s 6-foot-6. Gaines needs to develop a spin move – a chop-spin.”
Adams knows the pressure is on him. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has made it perfectly clear to Adams that the goal is double-digit sacks or bust – literally.
“Double-digit sacks. That is what he is going to be graded on,” Morris said. “There is no secret about it. I have no problem telling Gaines, ‘Hey Gaines, if you don’t do it this year, then you are going to be considered a bust.' I told him that in the team meeting. I tell him that every once in a while when we walk out together. He can’t wait. He is embracing it, and he is going to come out ready to play. There is no other thing that is going to define Gaines Adams more than his sacks and production. Production speaks volumes. That is how we have always lived.”
Adams says he is mentally prepared for the pressure that comes with being a fourth overall pick and finally becoming an elite sacker. That is why he spent the summer with Smith learning counter moves and refining his pass rushing technique.
“This is my third year. It’s time for me to make a statement and to come up with a different move,” Adams said. “You can’t just come out and think you are going to just speed rush a guy. This is not college. That’s not going to work. I’ve got that mind-frame now from working with Chuck and his other guys. You’ve got to have a counter. Your speed can be your ‘A’ game, but you have to have a counter. You have to be able to come back with something else.”
Smith was thoroughly impressed with Adams and is anxious to watch him produce. After a slow start in training camp, Adams began to play more comfortably with an increased physical presence on Sunday against Donald Penn, striking more forcefully and seldom seen using a bull rush on Monday against both James Lee and rookie Xavier Fulton.
“Gaines Adams is going to be a monster in this league and he’s going to be one of the best defensive linemen in this league,” said Smith, who has been known for his hyperbole. “He’s a great kid. He’s a hard worker. But who cares if he runs a 4.6 if your hips don’t turn when you reach the tackle? I think he’s going to be way more physical because that’s the attitude we have to have. Gaines is a big guy, but he’s tall. He’s not a 290-pound guy like Mario Williams, but he still has to use power. The great speed rushers were always the best bull rushers. We would get up-field so quickly and get into guys and get them off balance and then we bull rush them. The bull rush can be a great weapon for him. He needs to go speed-to-bull. But when you go speed-to-bull, Gaines can’t stay on him for five seconds. He has to use it to shock somebody and then get around the corner and beat him. You can’t just try to run them over because those guys never get sacks. Eventually the tackle is going to drop his butt and plant. We talked about that a lot. Those bull rushes are set up off of speed rushes. Let’s see how he performs.”
Smith said that the experience was eye-opening for Adams and that he is anxious to get another dose of Defensive Line, Inc. in 2010.
“He told me he was coming back next year, but even earlier,” Smith said. “Gaines wants to come in earlier. He’s part of my family now. I stay in touch with all my guys from Albert Haynesworth to Osi Umenyiora and try to help them any way I can. Gaines and I have a partnership. I’m not a coach. I’m just a support system as a mentor for pass rushing and how to be a professional.”
Adams plans on staying in touch with Smith, who will be visiting him, Moore and defensive line coach Robert Nunn, who is Smith’s close friend and former coach.
“It was a great experience just being able to go up there and be in the presence of a great defensive end like Chuck Smith. I have the utmost respect for him. It was my first time there and he taught me a lot of things. Now I’m just trying to improve on all my moves. It was definitely worth my time, and I’m definitely looking forward to going up there next year.”
Perhaps as a double-digit sacker.